Pyracantha double trunk to single

Just about 4 months ago, this post chronicled the left half of this collected pyracantha dying over the course of a year or so, along with a virtual restyling.  Here is an update; the tree is only half-dead, and isn’t half bad.

The problem:

The plan:

And the progress.  While the wood ages into a dark gray color in time, I added some black ink to make it a bit easier on the eyes. This constant reminder was a little rough:

A few drops diluted into a teaspoon of water took that glare off nicely:


A conversation with Enrique Castano on Ume

Have you ever heard the way to tell if an ume will bloom?  The leaves of a blooming ume have smooth undersides, and the underside of leaves on an ume that isn’t going to bloom are rough.  For fun, or maybe to torture myself a bit, I decided to try and cature rough leaves on camera.  What do you know, they’re furry…

As contrasted with the leaves from a blooming ume:

Non-blooming shoot has only vegetative buds at the base of furry leaves:

And flower buds appear on either side of vegetative buds:

1 & 3 are flower buds, 2 is a vegetative bud.  Sometimes, oftentimes, ume will produce flower buds, and no vegetative buds, making it a challenge to prune them to keep foliage close to the trunk.  More on that another day.  I’ve been photographing another experiment for the last couple years…but I digress…



But I digress again…I got curious about why non-blooming ume leaves were furry and blooming ume were smooth.  Juvenile vs. adult foliage maybe?  It’s not uncommon to have juvenile and adult foliage in other trees…apples change from lobed to smooth as they get to blooming age.  Junipers have juvenile and adult foliage.  I read a post by another ume grower stating he has observed rough and smooth leaves on the same plant.

The best botany book tailored to bonsai is named “Botany for Bonsai” by Enrique Castano.  Click the title to buy it at Stone Lantern. It is a great reference text to have on your shelves.  I decided to ask Enrique if he has any insight on the fuzzy leaf phenomenon, and he not only answered, but was kind enough to allow me to share the discussion here. Enrique is a molecular biologists who is specialized on gene regulation. So the subject is second nature for him.  Not me!

Hi Enrique,

I have been studying and practicing bonsai for over 22 years, and have enjoyed owning your book, Botany for Bonsai, as it is the only one I have found that really addresses the botany side. This is why I am reaching out to you.

I have noticed, and often heard that Japanese Apricot, Prunus mume with rough leaves on the undersides will not produce flower buds at their axil, but smooth-bottomed leaves do. I have 2 ume, a mature one that is smooth-leaved and blooms, and a younger one that produces rough leaves, and does not yet bloom.

Are you familiar with this phenomenon, and if so, can you help explain why this may be the case?

Many thanks!

Brian Van Fleet
Hi Brian,

Thanks for your compliment. With regard to Prunus mume, I only had that tree when I lived in the UK, and they were already quite old so I did not experiment on younger plants from this species in particular. However it is not uncommon to have distinctive features in the leaves between younger plants and older plants. 

From early on, the development of a plant starts with a particular shape of leaves, and this (shape) will change once the tree matures. However this is not necessarily like it ocurrs with animals. And older tree can become young if it is heavily pruned or if the nutrition forces the tree to grow like a young tree. For example adding too much nitrate will increase its growth and it will not produce flowers, since the tree is making leaves for light absorption and growth. When the nutrition is balanced, the trees requirement for growth depends more on the amount of light available (if it has few branches then it will make younger bigger leaves, if it has a mature branching the leaves will grow slower and will be mature) to manage the energy appropriately. 

The difference between mature and young leaves can be minimal or quite dramatic depending on the species. Some species can grow up to 4 different shapes of leaves depending on the maturity. But know that to address how the shape changes; well, that goes into how genes that control the leaf morphology are regulated. Usually this regulation requires what is called transcription factors.  These are proteins that bind to the begining of the genes and activate particular programs, that after a few more steps (if you want I can explain but it is long…) the shape of a leaf is created. Now the regulation of the transcription factors depends on signals that the cells get and some of these signals include phytoregulators that we call hormones, these hormones can be taken from the outside or created denovo on the plant depending on its growth. 

Well hope this helps, let me know if you want a longer version.

Cheers. Enrique

I haven’t gone back for the longer version yet, but I am tempted, as I think I finally internalized the short version!

Thanks Enrique for a great letter!

Losing Trees: Pyracantha Problems

This tree was collected in 2005, from a very large and very old hedge. It came out in 3 chunks, this was the middle-sized chunk. I had to use a chainsaw to separate diggable (is that a word? You know what I mean) portions. The left side of this one was sawed under, and I’d been trying for years to get it to root. It issues a few then, kind of quits. See the cut, and the attempted roots?

The scar is where I removed a branch ten years ago, which obviously never callused over, and began to rot. Additionally, a few years ago, they trunk split, at the front, forcing me to do a little carving. I think that sets up the subject of today’s post. I’m afraid I’m losing the tree…after a Best of Show at the 2015 Alabama Bonsai Society Show, an appearance at the Carolina Bonsai Expo…and acceptance into the 2016 US National show in NY.

Leaves turn yellow at and around the veins, then the whole branch dies.


I lost big branches on the left trunk, forcing a Trumplike combover for the Carolina Expo last year. This spring, the primary branch on the left trunk started weak and got worse. Kathy Shaner visited my garden in May and suggested I wrap the branch and the side of the trunk to keep it from drying. Worth a try, as I’d rather not have to completely restyle the tree from one of my favorite styles (twin trunk) into something more static. So in Mid May, I found an ugly old hand towel (I assumed it wouldn’t be missed), which blended in surprisingly well, and wrapped the branch and side of the trunk. Here is where we started:







It must have been too far gone, because by mid-June, the lower left branch was dead.



So I removed the dead branches and the wrap.

And pruned the lower-right branch to balance the left side. I still don’t know what’s wrong, but the necrosis has stopped since June, so we’ll see. I have decided to let the tree do what it’s going to do; and I’ll respond. For now, I’ll just let it grow and try to keep the aphids away.

The dieback continued, and it looked like this by mid-September:


And I grew tired of watching it suffer, so I removed everything that was dead/dying:


Then pruned the remaining growth back hard in an attempt to shock the tree into budding back.

It went to a back bench…where it gets more sun and less attention. It’s a tree that grows anytime the temperature is above freezing, so it has a good 2 months left to go. We’ll see.  The right side of the tree remains very strong in Mid-November, so a good redesign is hopeful.  Maybe something like this

So, with Alabama completely dominating Miss State 44-3 in the 3rd, I decided to get started on the plan.  11/12:

The result:

And a little drilling for drainage and to round out the flat cut a bit:

Next up, a little pruning and wiring…